Iran would never come out and say openly, “Here’s a reminder of how we humiliated you 35 years ago by seizing your embassy and holding your people hostage.” Even for the cloistered leadership of Iran, that would be too obvious.
But neither are they basking in subtlety when they name a participant in that terrorist act as UN ambassador.
On Friday, the US State Department denied a visa to Hamid Abutalebi, an admitted member of the group of students who masterminded the taking of our embassy in Tehran in 1979. Mr. Abutalebi was destined to become the new Iranian ambassador to the UN.
Now the Iranians are saying that there isn’t anyone else who can do the job and they plan on taking the denial of the diplomat’s visa to the UN.
“We have no replacement for Mr. Abutalebi and we will pursue the matter via legal mechanisms envisioned at the United Nations,” Abbas Araghchi, a senior Foreign Ministry official, was quoted by Iran’s official IRNA news agency as saying.
“Based on an agreement with the United Nations, America is bound to act according to its international commitments,” Araghchi said, as quoted by IRNA. The United Nations said it had no comment at this time on the U.S. decision.
American law allows the Washington government to bar U.N. diplomats who are considered national security threats. But Obama’s potentially precedent-setting step could open the United States to criticism that it is wielding its position as host nation to improperly exert political influence.
Araghchi is also a top negotiator in Iran’s talks with big powers on defusing a stand-off over its disputed nuclear activity. Iran has said Washington’s rejection of Abutalebi will not affect the talks, whose next round is set for May 13.
Abutalebi says he served solely as a periodic translator for the Islamist students who seized the U.S. embassy hostages, and he has since evolved into a moderate figure favoring, like President Hassan Rouhani, a thaw in Iran’s ties with the West.
Since an uproar among former U.S. hostages and U.S. lawmakers over Abutalebi broke out, Tehran has steadfastly stuck by its choice, describing him as a seasoned diplomat who has served in various capacities in Western countries.
“Dr. Abutalebi is one of the most capable, experienced and rational diplomats in Iran,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told IRNA. He served as Iran’s U.N. envoy for eight years before taking his current job last year following Rouhani’s election on a pledge to ease Iran’s international isolation.
In comments posted on Facebook late on Friday, Abutalebi said the U.S. move against him set a “wrong new precedent.”
Vahi Ahmadiah, a hardline conservative cleric who heads the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs and national security committee, said: “America has no right to inject its issues into an international matter. It has shown (here) its hostile nature again. It uses every chance to hit out at the Islamic Republic.”
It was unclear whether the matter might play into the hands of hardliners in Iran’s unwieldy power structure. They are keen to discredit Rouhani’s campaign to improve long-hostile relations with the West, especially Washington, but have been held in check for now by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Get that? It’s America’s fault if nuclear talks blow up because so-called “hardliners” in Iran will gain the upper hand if Abutalebi is denied his UN seat. If the imaginary “moderates” in the Iranian leadership came up with this clear, deliberate insult by sending a hostage taker back to America in triumph, how much worse can the hardliners be?
Does anyone really believe that the Iranians weren’t fully cognizant of the ruckus that would ensue by naming Abutalebi to a post in America? This is a government that, 35 years after the event, still requires its citizens to scream “Death to America” after Friday prayers. The hostage taking has been raised to mythical heights by the leadership, making it the seminal event in the creation of the Islamic state.
But the Iranians are surprised at our attitude?
I call bullcrap on that. Subsequently, no nation should be forced to endure such a deliberate and calculated insult as that being offered by the Iranians. How would they like it if we named William Rogers, captain of the USS Vincennes that mistakenly shot down an Iranian passenger aircraft in 1988, as our ambassador to Tehran if relations are ever restored?
The Obama administration should ignore whatever diktat comes from the UN about granting this hostage taker a visa. Most of the UN would like to see the US humiliated anyway, so rather than play into their hands, the administration should send a message that such insults will not be tolerated.